A Guide to Making Bad Radio
Competition is fierce. There are more radio stations in a market than there probably should be. The advancement of technology has divided our listener’s attention and added to confusion. The very fact the term ‘screen-agers’ exists to describe our teens signifies the disruptive nature of the landscape we now operate within. Winning today is hard.
There is no easy way to conquer the competition. If you’re fortunate enough to develop a winning strategy enjoy the moment as it won’t last long. Winning today has a lot to do with adaptability; being able to adapt to the ever changing needs and tastes of your desired audience. We are – to some extent – at the mercy of technological advances. It’s hard to predict what the future will serve up for us, but one thing is for sure, it will bring more change. Change that we can’t begin to conceive of. If we are flexible and embracing of this change we may be lucky enough to work out how to win again tomorrow too. Despite all this disruption some things never change. If you are looking for a how to guide on how to erode your own ratings, then we have all you need below. The way to lose will never change.
Here is our guide to making bad radio… If you use it, you’re guaranteed to reduce your ratings.
- Ensure there is nothing distinctive or different about your product. Just try and be as good as, or better than, someone else. Take the approach of “they look successful, let’s do something like that.” Do not stand for anything; there’s no need to be divisive.
- Fail to own a meaningful position in your target audience’s mind. Why not pursue every option available to you; surely doing more is better than doing a few things? Don’t worry about being known for one thing or by one word, instead try and win everything.
- Make sure you avoid communicating what makes you different and desirable. People have the time and energy to work out what it is for themselves. They don’t need you to tell them. If you do intend to communicate what you’re about, don’t do it very often; infrequently will work best.
- Targeting a certain type of person seems restrictive. You will surely have more success if you try and appeal to a broad audience. Avoid having your product appeal to a certain age of person after all a retiree is not that different to a teenager right?
- If you are targeting your product then make sure you target on age and gender alone. That’s the best way to align your audience. This new idea of targeting a lifestyle and the values of the audience seems too complicated. Stick to the old ways of doing it.
- Don’t try and understand the audience. They don’t know what they want. What’s the point in researching their behaviors and tastes, eventually they’ll learn to like your product as much as you do.
- Keep the audience at arm’s length. They don’t need to be involved in the creative process. You – and your team – are the experts. Build it and they shall come. Make sure the audience is passive in the process of building your brand.
- Make it all about the music. The only thing the audience really cares about is music. People find it intolerable to put together their own playlists on Spotify or to stream Apple Music. They hate searching out songs on YouTube and never pay attention to their friend’s recommendations. They come to you purely for the music. You are their sole source for music.
- Ignore research. The data can’t get it right. You have your job because your taste in music is far better than the audience’s anyway. Research is flawed. Instead play the songs that you think are hits and that you like. Flex your musical muscle and nothing can go wrong.
- Never challenge the audience’s musical tastes. The audience hates surprises. They like what they like and have no room for anything else. Keep rotating that short list of songs in a predictable way, the audience will love you for that.
- Play lots of music. The more music you play the better your chance of winning. If the competition plays 40 minutes nonstop, you’ll win by playing 45 minutes nonstop. If the competition promises 50 minutes nonstop then you can easily win by doing 60 minutes nonstop. And so on…
- Your audience hates it when people talk on the radio. The more you can shut them up the better you’ll do.
- Hire uninteresting, robotic and monotonous talent. No-one wants to hear them anyway (see above point). Plus they tend to be cheaper and easier to manage. They also probably sound a lot like your competitors’ talent and your desire is just to be a better version of them.
- Get your talent to say the station name at the start and end of each break. Even better, get them to do it in exactly the same style each time. Who doesn’t like uninteresting people that actually spend the majority of their time saying uninteresting things!
- Take your time. Your audience has all the time in the world. You have their complete attention, they haven’t got anything better to do. Meander through your thoughts. Present contradicting and complicated ideas. Make multiple points at once. Your. Time.
- Hire people who think they’re funny. Then encourage them to do ‘funny bits’ all the time. The more jokes, the better. Companionship is out. Comedians are in.
- Hire talent who hate direction. Talent who think they know it all. Those who have been there and done that. It’ll make your life as the PD easier as you won’t have to work with them. They’ll make it obvious that ‘they got this’. It’s an instant timesaver to have egotistical and arrogant talent on the team.
- Don’t prepare. We want our talent to be spontaneous even if it comes at the expense of entertainment. Real and lackluster always triumphs over prepared and entertaining.
- There are only a few approaches to show prep and you should encourage your talent to do one of these at all times; (a) simply rip and read whatever is on the irrelevant prep sites and services they subscribe to. (b) read the Pop Culture stories that have been running on the internet and in social media feeds for the last 24 hours or so. (c) talk about yourself. We all want to hear about your trip to the supermarket or when you first swore as a child. The audience lives to indulge in your life – after all it’s a better life than ours. (d) If all else fails simply steal bits that you like from other radio shows (or even popular TV shows; Mean Tweets anyone). A show full of disconnected and irrelevant bits won’t hurt.
- Your audience is hard of hearing so make sure the voiceovers really scream the message at them. Make sure they have no warmth, just loudness. You want movie trailer type voices vs real people.
- The nosier the better! Make sure your imaging team really invest in putting in lots of whooshes and zaps. The busier the piece of production – and the more excited your producer is – the better you’re doing. Keep going.
- It’s never about the words. It’s always about the sound. Want to convey emotion then simply change the music in the piece. If you want it to be a sad piece put a delicate harp into it. You don’t need to carefully consider the words, or make sure the voiceover has an authentic tone.
- Texture is overrated. You don’t need variety in your imaging approaches. Who cares if you have usage promos, listener imaging, sonic variety etc. Just say the same thing over and over again so that you bombard your audience with consistency and no creativity. That will help the message be heard.
- Imaging is meant to be functional, not entertaining. Do whatever you can to keep it quick, repetitive and monotone.
- Do not market your brand. If the product is good enough people will surely seek you out. Those who do seek you out will find you so compelling that they will shout about it from the rooftops. What we do matters to people, so marketing isn’t necessary. It’s only about what comes out of the speakers.
- Slash the marketing budget. If you have to save money this seems like the most sensible place to do it. After all, they’ll find you if you’re good enough (see above point).
- If you decide you want to market, do not use a creative agency to help you develop your messaging and visual image. Surely there is someone on your team that can use Paint or PowerPoint instead?
- Do the same thing, in the same way, all the time. Why re-invent the wheel? Simply regurgitate the promotions that have been used since radio promotions began. It’s not like creativity and innovation is important to your audience.
- Make sure the audience has to do multiple things to win – listen, enter online, follow the Facebook clues. The more often they have to interact with your brand in order to maybe win, the better! Keep them jumping through hoops.
- Who doesn’t like to qualify? What a fantastically cost-effective prize – you have won the chance to maybe win something. Qualifying works for everyone. Its zero cost and people win something. Abuse the idea of qualifying.
- Ignore the majority and create your own content. Seizing the moment is over-rated. Everyone will be talking about the major disaster, sporting win, pop culture story, or musical legend’s death. You should stick to your well-crafted strategic plan while everyone else is jumping on the big story of the moment. People don’t come to you to hear the latest news anyway. Plus by not doing it you’ll be offering a break from all the coverage everyone else is doing.
- We do promotions to give away cool things and drive appointment tuning. It’s never about conveying our brand values. Don’t worry if the prize doesn’t reflect your listener’s wants or needs. Don’t worry if the client you’re partnering with doesn’t align with your brand. You just want cool things to give away. And never ever worry about running winner promos; they don’t make your station sound exciting, they just serve as a reminder you didn’t win.
- The more promos the better. No one listens to radio for anything other than music and chances to win. Fill every break with a contest. The more the merrier. It also means the talent can’t be talking about something of their choosing; we already know they can’t do anything interesting.
- Never, ever, break the cardinal rule of radio. All promotions must use “caller #4” methodology.
- Do not respond to ratings. In fact don’t believe the ratings at all. Ignore the fact that you are number 11, it’s probably not accurate; you know lots of people who love your station and dislike the number 1 station. You don’t see athletes reacting to their positions after a race so why should you.
- Always blame the methodology. It’s simply not a fair system – until you’re winning obviously. The sample size is too small so spend your time beating up on the data rather than trying to fix the problems it’s highlighting for you.
- Shoot the first person who utters the phrases “digital” or “multi-platform”. We do radio. Radio still has a 95% weekly reach. We’re healthy, we don’t need to worry about the changing consumer habits. It’s better to stick to what you know than be curious about the future. We can deal with the future when it’s here surely?
- The only social media policy you need is “don’t use Facebook at work”. You need to minimize the distractions social media can have on your team. They’re lying to you if they tell you this is where their audience communicates to them. They just want to stalk their ex during their shows.
- Centralization is your best friend. You’re not smart enough to make your own decisions, much better if you rely on the governance of those with bigger job titles. Make sure you run everything you’re thinking past them. If they aren’t positive about the idea, scrap it immediately.
- Morale is not as important as results. Do whatever it takes to get positive results. Happiness comes from obliterating the targets. People don’t need to feel included, challenged, supported or happy if the results are coming in. Results lead to happiness. Be ruthless in how you get the results – you’ll make people happier in the end!
- Always – and we mean always – put sales before ratings. If there are dollars attached to it then you should do it. Make sure the talent and the content team are under no illusions the dollar wins on every occasion. Dilute and diminish your brand for the bottom line; it’s a tough economy.
- Hire programmers that are safe. No one wants a maverick that’s trying new things and experimenting. You need someone who loves to build business plans and who seeks to control everything. You don’t want corporate to notice your station because your PD is doing something unique or unusual. Stick to what has always worked. Be conservative. After all the world hasn’t changed, your audience hasn’t changed, why should you?
If all of the above is not having the desired impact then build your strategy around two words “Commercial Free”. Say it often. Shout it with pride. There’s nothing like a commodity approach to ensure you lose in the end!
Winning is hard. None of us can be 100% sure how to do it; I’ll let you in to a secret those who say they know how are either lying or delusional. Winning requires us to approach each day with a fresh curiosity and a willingness to change. But, if you want to lose those were some of the guaranteed ways to do it.
If you would like to add your own thoughts and theories to our ‘Bad Radio Handbook’ then please feel free to share them at [email protected] or on Twitter @mrpkaye